Much of what Baroness Vere told the Transport Select Committee on 24 March came as little surprise to the coach industry. But one element will have been particularly hard to take.
Since January there has been a further hardening of Lady Vere’s approach to the sector. It began with comments that the government largely does not regard coaching as essential. That was concreted at the Committee hearing by her blasé and insulting dismissal of concerns about widespread operator failures over coming months.
Hindsight shows that Westminster never had any intention of assisting the industry, despite two devolved governments doing so. But the language used in 2020’s countless rejections was softer. The harder line adopted more recently is worrying. A specific written exclusion of coaching from the Restart Grant mechanism in England is unnecessary and petty.
One operator uses his barber as an example of the unlevel playing field. That sector was closed by decree for much of the past year. It is thus eligible for grants. The barber has yearly outgoings of £14,000. It received £30,000 in support. That could, as the operator notes, cover a lot of short back and sides.
Meanwhile, some coach businesses accrue vehicle finance payments of £14,000 per week. Few would deny that barbers are worthy of grant support. But for the government to regard the coach industry, and the seven-days-a-week work ethic that has built it, as expendable is perhaps the gravest insult of all.